Beverly Sills

Beverly Sills

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Soprano Beverly Sills is America`s best-known opera singer, based on her performances during the 1960s and the 1970s. She also is known for her involvement in the March of Dimes, along with myriad other charities and organizations.An early talentBeverly Sills was born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn, New York, on May 25, 1929, to Jewish-Russian emigrants. Her mother enrolled her in voice, dance, and elocution lessons.In the 1930s, Beverly performed on radio, and in 1936 she appeared in the short film, “Uncle Sol Solves It.” She was encouraged by her vocal coach, Estelle Leibling, to audition for the radio show, “Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour.” She was taken on as a regular and was heard across America on Sundays.Career and marriageSills made her stage debut with Gilbert and Sullivan in 1945, and sang operetta for several years. She appeared with the San Francisco Opera in 1953, as Helen of Troy in Boito’s “Mefistofele.” Then in 1955 she appeared in the New York City Opera in Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus.” Sills` reputation was established in her title role in the New York premiere of Douglas Stuart Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe.”Sills married Peter Greenough in 1956. Their son, Peter, was diagnosed with mental retardation, and daughter, Muffy, exhibited a severe hearing loss.Beverly Sills resumed her career in January 1964, when she returned to the Opera Company of Boston and sang the “Queen of the Night” in Mozart`s “The Magic Flute.” Sills became an international opera star in 1966 when she performed the masterpiece, “Giulio Cesare,” as Cleopatra at the New York City Opera.Retirement with a green lightSills continued to perform in numerous operas until her retirement in 1980. Sills disclosed that she had to place her husband in a nursing home; she had been caring for him at home for more than eight years.Sills received a Kennedy Center honor in 1985, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998, and received a National Medal of Honor for Art in 1990. She also won an Emmy Award for her “Profile in Music.” In 1976 Sills published a memoir, Bubbles: A Self-Portrait, and in 1987, she wrote Beverly: An Autobiography. Beverly also held honorary degrees from 14 leading academic institutions.Sills died in New York City on July 2, 2007.

See also Marian Anderson and Kathleen Battle. For other famous women, see Important and Famous Women in America.

On July 8, 1966, Sills sang Donna Anna in Don Giovanni with the Metropolitan Opera, but her formal debut with the Metropolitan Opera did not actually occur until 1975. Sills was able to rise to the top of her profession before touring Europe. She finally did so in 1967, a guest of the Vienna State Opera. She went on to sing in Buenos Aires, Argentina La Scala in Milan, Italy and Covent Garden, London, England. She also performed in Naples, Italy Berlin, Germany and Paris, France.

On October 27, 1980, Sills gave her last performance. Opera critics said it was overdue, as her voice had been deteriorating (weakening) for some time due, in part, to health problems. The very next day she assumed the general directorship of the New York City Opera. She displayed great management skill and public relations talent, appearing on popular television programs and in other ways representing opera to a wide audience. She helped pull the New York City Opera out of both financial and public crises.

Sills wrote three autobiographies. She received honorary doctoral degrees from Harvard University, New York University, Temple University, the New England Conservatory, and the California Institute of the Arts. In 1973 she was awarded the Handel Medallion, New York City's highest cultural award.

In 1972 Sills added philanthropy to her list of careers, becoming the national chairman of the Mothers' March on Birth Defects. She continues to be a highly visible active public figure, promoting both operatic and philanthropic causes.

Beverly Sills

With her vibrant, cheery personality, soprano Beverly Sills always was a favorite of the general public, among the most effective spokespersons the arts have had in America. The child of immigrant parents, Sills (born Belle Miriam Silverman) discovered singing at an early age at four she was on a morning radio program as "Bubbles" Silverman, and by age seven she had sung in a movie. At 16 she joined a touring Gilbert and Sullivan company. Her most important vocal studies were with Estelle Liebling, who had been a favored soprano of John Philip Sousa. In 1947, she made her operatic debut as Frasquita in Carmen at Philadelphia. She toured North America during the 1951-1952 season with the Charles Wagner Opera Company, singing Violetta in La Traviata and Micaëla (Carmen). After singing in Baltimore and San Francisco, she made her debut at the New York City Opera, which was to become her artistic home for over two decades. She once again sang Violetta in that debut, but soon expanded her repertoire to include a wide range of roles. Among the twentieth century operas in which she performed were Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe, Nono's Intolleranza, and Weisgall's Six Characters in Three Acts. In 1966, she reached international fame with performances as Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare. Her performances of Donizetti's "Tudor triology," Roberto Devereux, Maria Stuarda, and Anna Bolena, solidified her stature on the international scene. She made her Teatro alla Scala debut as Pamira in Rossini's The Siege of Corinth in an edition prepared by conductor Thomas Schippers. In 1975, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in the same role she had already sung Donna Anna in a concert performance there in 1966. Her Vienna debut in 1967 as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte was one of her few performances of this role. She regularly sang many other important roles in both Italian opera and in works from other countries.

She retired from performing at the age of 50, with an appearance in Menotti's La Loca, and accepted the position of General Manager of the New York City Opera. In 1991, she joined the board of the Metropolitan Opera, and four years later became head of New York's Lincoln Center. Sills sang regularly in concerts and recitals containing the arias from her famous roles. Her concert performance of the first version of Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos is justly famous, since Zerbinetta's aria in this version is much more difficult than in the revised version.

Her basic voice was a light, high soprano with excellent technique and breath control. She was best heard in roles where fragility of character was paramount, such as Marie in Donizetti's La Fille du régiment, Puccini's Manon Lescaut, and Violetta. By sheer power of character she held her own in operas normally best served by larger voices as well.

Although her artistic life was filled with great triumphs, Sills knew personal tragedy. Her daughter was born deaf and her son is mentally retarded. She was active in the March of Dimes Mothers' March on Birth Defects and other related organizations. Her autobiography was published in 1976 with the title Bubbles: A Self-Portrait and was revised in 1981 as Bubbles: An Encore another autobiography, Beverly, followed in 1987.

Beverly Sills

Beverly Sills (May 25, 1929 – July 2, 2007), fondly known as "Bubbles" to her many fans, was perhaps the best-known American opera singer in the 1960s and 1970s. She was famous for her performances in coloratura soprano roles in operas around the world and on recordings. After retiring from singing in 1980, she became the general manager of the New York City Opera. In 1994, she became the Chairman of Lincoln Center and then, in 2002, of the Metropolitan Opera, stepping down in 2005. Sills lent her celebrity to further her charity work for the prevention and treatment of birth defects.

Sills underwent successful surgery for cancer in 1974, but succumbed to an aggressive form of lung cancer on July 2, 2007. She was 78 years old.

Life and career

Sills was born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn, New York to Shirley Bahn (née Sonia Markovna), a musician, and Morris Silverman, an insurance broker. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Odessa and Bucharest, Romania. She was raised in Brooklyn, where she was known, among friends, as "Bubbles" Silverman. As a child, she spoke Yiddish, Russian, Romanian, French and English.

Early career

At the age of three, Sills won a "Miss Beautiful Baby" contest, in which she sang "The Wedding of Jack and Jill." Beginning at age four, she performed professionally on the Saturday morning radio program, "Rainbow House," as "Bubbles" Silverman. Sills began taking singing lessons with Estelle Liebling at the age of seven and a year later sang in the short film Uncle Sol Solves It (filmed August 1937, released June 1938 by Educational Pictures), by which time she had adopted her stage name, Beverly Sills. Liebling encouraged her to audition for CBS Radio's Major Bowes' Amateur Hour, and on October 26, 1939 at the age of 10, Sills was the winner of that week's program. Bowes then asked her to appear on his Capitol Family Hour, a weekly variety show. Her first appearance was on November 19, 1939, the 17th anniversary of the show, and she appeared frequently on the program thereafter.

In 1945, Sills made her professional stage debut with a Gilbert and Sullivan touring company produced by Jacob J. Shubert. In her 1987 autobiography, she wrote, "The Shubert tour… was exhausting. In two months, we played Providence, Boston, Hartford, Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Madison and Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati…. We performed seven different G&S operettas: The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore, The Gondoliers, Patience, Iolanthe, and Trial by Jury. Gilbert and Sullivan were gifted, funny writers, and I could always count on certain songs of theirs to bring down the house…. I played the title role in Patience, and I absolutely loved the character, because Patience is a very funny, flaky girl. My favorite line in the operetta occurs when someone comes up to her and says, "Tell me, girl, do you ever yearn?" And Patience replies, "I yearn my living." I played her as a dumb Dora all the way through and really had fun with the role…. I made her into a bit of a klutz, as well. My Patience grew clumsier and clumsier with each performance, and audiences seemed to like her all the more for it. I certainly did. I found that I had a gift for slapstick humor, and it was fun to exercise it onstage." Sills sang operettas for several years.

In 1947, she made her operatic stage debut as the Spanish gypsy Frasquita in Bizet's Carmen with the Philadelphia Civic Opera. She toured North America with the Charles Wagner Opera Company, in the fall of 1951 singing Violetta in La traviata and, in the fall of 1952, singing Micaëla in Carmen. On September 15, 1953, she made her debut with the San Francisco Opera as Helen of Troy in Boito's Mefistofele and also sang Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni the same season. On October 29, 1955, she first appeared with the New York City Opera[/artist as Rosalinde in Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus, which received critical praise. As early as 1956 she performed before an audience of over 13,000 guests at the landmark Lewisohn Stadium with the noted operatic conductor Alfredo Antonini in an aria from Vincenzo Bellini's I puritani. Her reputation expanded with her performance of the title role in the New York premiere of Douglas Stuart Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe in 1958.

On November 17, 1956, Sills married journalist Peter Greenough, of the Cleveland, Ohio newspaper The Plain Dealer and moved to Cleveland. She had two children with Greenough, Meredith ("Muffy") in 1959 and Peter, Jr. ("Bucky") in 1961. Muffy was profoundly deaf and Peter was severely mentally disabled. Sills restricted her performing schedule to care for her children.

In 1960, Sills and her family moved to Milton, Massachusetts, near Boston. In 1962, Sills sang the title role in Massenet's Manon with the Opera Company of Boston, the first of many roles for opera director Sarah Caldwell. Manon continued to be one of Sills' signature roles throughout most of her career. In January 1964, she sang her first Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute for Caldwell. Although Sills drew critical praise for her coloratura technique and for her performance, she was not fond of the latter role she observed that she often passed the time between the two arias and the finale addressing holiday cards.

Peak singing years

In 1966, the New York City Opera revived Handel's then virtually unknown opera seria Giulio Cesare (with Norman Treigle as Cæsar), and Sills' performance as Cleopatra made her an international opera star. Sills also made her "unofficial" Met debut in its "Opera in the Parks" program as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, though nothing further came of this other than offers from Rudolf Bing for roles such as Flotow's Martha. In subsequent seasons at the NYCO, Sills had great successes in the roles of the Queen of Shemakha in Rimsky-Korsakov (Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov)'s Le coq d'or, the title role in Manon, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, and the three female leads Suor Angelica, Giorgetta, and Lauretta in Puccini's trilogy Il trittico. She also began to make recordings of her operas, first Giulio Cesare (1967) then Roberto Devereux (1969), Lucia di Lammermoor (1970), Manon (1970), La traviata (1971), Maria Stuarda (1971), The Tales of Hoffmann (with Treigle, 1972), Anna Bolena (1972), I puritani (1973), Norma (1973), The Siege of Corinth (1974), Il barbiere di Siviglia (1974-75), I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1975), Thaïs (1976), Louise (1977), Don Pasquale (1978) and Rigoletto (1978).

During this period, she made her first television appearance as a talk-show personality on "Virginia Graham's Girl Talk," a weekday series syndicated by ABC Films. An opera fan who was Talent Coordinator for the series, persuaded the producer to put her on the air and she was a huge hit. Throughout the rest of her career she shone as a talk show guest, sometimes also functioning as a guest host.

In 1969, Sills sang Zerbinetta in the American premiere (in a concert version) of the 1912 version of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos with the Boston Symphony. Her performance of the role, especially Zerbinetta's aria, "Grossmächtige Prinzessin," which she sang in the original higher key, won her acclaim. Illegal copies of the performance, video-taped using period home VCRs of varying qualities, were available for years afterwards on Internet auction sites and elsewhere, sometimes commanding formidable sums the entire performance was released commercially in 2006 and has been well-received. The second major event of the year was her debut as Pamira in Rossini's The Siege of Corinth at La Scala, a success that put her on the cover of Newsweek magazine. Her now high-profile career landed her on the cover of Time magazine in 1971, labeling her as "America's Queen of Opera." The title was appropriate because Sills had purposely limited her overseas engagements because of her family. Her major overseas appearances include London's Covent Garden, Milan's La Scala, La Fenice in Naples, the Vienna State Opera, the Theatre de Beaulieu in Lausanne, Switzerland, and concerts in Paris. In South America, she sang in the opera houses of Buenos Aires and Santiago, a concert in Lima, Peru, and appeared in several productions in Mexico City, including Lucia di Lammermoor with Luciano Pavarotti.

Following Sir Rudolf Bing's departure as director, Sills finaly made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera on April 7, 1975 in The Siege of Corinth, receiving an eighteen-minute ovation. Other operas she sang at the Met include La traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, Thaïs, and Don Pasquale (directed by John Dexter). In an interview after his retirement, Bing stated that his refusal to use Sills, as well as his preference for engaging, almost exclusively, Italian stars such as Renata Tebaldi - due to his notion that American audiences expected to see Italian stars - was the single biggest mistake of his career.

Sills attempted to downplay her animosity towards Bing while she was still singing, and even in her two autobiographies. But in a 1997 interview, Sills spoke her mind plainly, "Oh, Mr. Bing is an ass. hile everybody said what a great administrator he was and a great this, Mr. Bing was just an improbable, impossible General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera…. The arrogance of that man."

Sills also continued to perform for New York City Opera, her home opera house, essaying new roles right up to her retirement, including the leading roles in Rossini's Il turco in Italia, Lehár's Die lustige Witwe and Gian Carlo Menotti's La loca, a role written especially for her.

Although Sills' voice type was characterized as a "lyric coloratura," she took on a number of heavier roles more associated with heavier voices as she grew older, including Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia (with Susanne Marsee as Orsini) and the same composer's Tudor Queens, Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux (opposite Plácido Domingo in the title part). She was admired in those roles for transcending the lightness of her voice with dramatic interpretation, although it may have come at a cost: Sills later commented that Roberto Devereux "shortened her career by at least four years."

Sills was a frequent recitalist, especially in the final decade of her career. She sang in many mid-size cities and on numerous college concert series, bringing her art to many who might never see her on stage in a fully staged opera. She also sang concerts with a number of symphony orchestras.

Later years and death

In 1978, Sills announced she would retire on October 27, 1980, in a farewell gala at the New York City Opera. In the spring of 1979, she began acting as co-director of NYCO, and became its sole general director as of the fall season of that year, a post she held until 1989, although she remained on the NYCO board until 1991. During her time as general director, Sills helped turn what was then a financially struggling opera company into a viable enterprise. She also devoted herself to various arts causes and such charities as the [artistMarch of Dimes and was sought after for speaking engagements on college campuses and for fund raisers.

From 1994 to 2002, Sills was chairman of Lincoln Center. In October 2002, she agreed to serve as chairman of the Metropolitan Opera, for which she had been a board member since 1991. She resigned as Met chairman in January 2005, citing family as the main reason (she had finally had to place her husband, whom she had cared for over eight years, in a nursing home). She stayed long enough to supervise the appointment of Peter Gelb, formerly head of Sony Classical Records, as the Met's General Manager, to succeed Joseph Volpe in August 2006.

Peter Greenough, Sills' husband, died on September 6, 2006, at the age of 89

They would have had their 50th wedding anniversary on November 17, 2006.
She co-hosted The View for Best Friends Week on November 9, 2006, as Barbara Walters' best friend. She said that she didn't sing anymore, even in the shower, to preserve the memory of her voice.

She appeared on screen in movie theaters during HD transmissions live from the Met, interviewed during intermissions by the host Margaret Juntwait on January 6, 2007 (I puritani simulcast), as a backstage interviewer on February 24, 2007 (Eugene Onegin simulcast) and then, briefly, on April 28, 2007 (Il trittico simulcast).

On June 28, 2007, the Associated Press and CNN reported that Sills was hospitalized as "gravely ill," from lung cancer. With her daughter at her bedside, Beverly Sills succumbed to cancer on July 2, 2007, at the age of 78.

Liebling, Estelle (1880–1970)

American soprano and vocal teacher. Born in 1880 died in 1970 studied with Mathilde Marchesi and Selma Nicklass-Kempner.

Estelle Liebling appeared with a number of European and American opera companies, including a stint with the Metropolitan Opera (1903–04). She also toured with John Philip Sousa's band, performing at over 1,600 concerts. By 1930, she had retired from touring and begun teaching. At one time affiliated with the Curtis Institute, she was also the longtime singing teacher of opera great Beverly Sills .

While she was now singing strictly opera, Sills' dream of becoming a diva seemed as far away as ever. A season with the San Francisco Opera in 1953 appeared to be going well for her, in which she made her debut singing Helen of Troy in Boito's Mefistofele and went on to sing Doña Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni. But the season ended abruptly when Sills' natural exuberance got her in trouble with the company's artistic director at the time, Kurt Adler, who had cast her as one of the eight Valkyries in Wagner's Die Walküre. As she and her sister goddesses were making their somber exit, Sills' horned helmet fell from her head and clattered to the stage but instead of maintaining the inscrutable demeanor natural to a Valkyrie, Beverly ran to pick up the derelict headpiece and clapped it back on, much to the amusement and delight of the audience. Adler, fuming backstage, accused her of being drunk, while Sills proved with a sharp "Drop dead!" that she was nothing of the kind, and her employment with the company ended forthwith. She would not sing again in San Francisco for 18 years, on which occasion Adler left the offending helmet in her dressing room, filled with flowers and a note saying "Welcome home."

Throughout the early 1950s, Liebling had sent Sills to audition for the struggling young New York City Opera (NYCO), the company that had had its first season when Beverly was graduating from high school in 1944. By 1954, Sills had auditioned no less than seven times for the NYCO's director, Dr. Joseph Rosenstock, always taking care to dress modestly and sing her most comfortable bel canto roles from Donizetti, Rossini, and Bellini. When Rosenstock called her back an eighth time, Sills persuaded Liebling to find out why the man kept listening to her but never gave her a job. Rosenstock, Beverly learned, loved her voice but felt she had no "personality." Frustrated and angry at such treatment, Sills showed up for her eighth audition dressed in black mesh stockings, spiked heels, and a revealing blouse, with her hair hanging loose down her back. Since she had by now sung everything in her repertoire for Rosenstock, she launched into "La mamma morta" from Andrea Chénier, written for heavy-voiced, dramatic sopranos and hardly appropriate for a coloratura soprano. "I knew it was the wrong thing for me to sing, but I was very angry and I wanted him to know it," Sills remembers. "Believe me, he knew it." Rosenstock hired her for the company's 1955 fall season.

The City Opera at the time was housed in an old Shriners' temple on Manhattan's 55th Street, a venue never designed for grand opera. Although Mayor La Guardia's promise of "an opera company for the people" had been strictly followed by offering inexpensive seats (the most expensive ones costing two dollars), the result was also inexpensively mounted productions and short seasons—merely a week in the fall, and three weeks in the spring—and a chronically depleted treasury. Nonetheless, the company had boldly decided to mount Strauss' Die Fledermaus, and Rosenstock chose Sills to sing Rosalinda. Shirley made all of her daughter's costumes for the role, while adding a five-dollar white fox stole found at the Ritz Thrift Shop around the corner from the theater. Sills' performance, in which she stressed the comic proportions of the part, was the first that attracted widespread attention, after nearly 15 years of professional singing. The New York Times wrote that the City Opera had added "an accomplished singer to its roster" and told its readers that the production as a whole was "the best musical you can see in this city on or off Broadway." Rosalinda was the beginning of Sills' 25-year relationship with the City Opera, and of her long-awaited dream of opera stardom.

Don't think you're like every other girl in school, because you're not.

—Estelle Liebling to Beverly Sills, 1936

Sills toured with the company between its fall and spring seasons and, at a party given by the Cleveland Press Club, met the club's president, Peter Greenough. Greenough was the son of a wealthy Massachusetts family who owned the Cleveland Plain Dealer. At the time of their meeting, Greenough was in the midst of a lengthy and acrimonious divorce proceeding. He and Sills were immediately attracted to one another, although their courtship could not be described as being of operatic proportions, with several missed dates and unanswered phone calls before the relationship became serious and culminated in their marriage, in Estelle Liebling's studio, on September 17, 1956. The two remained devoted to one another, but the early years of the marriage were not without problems—from Greenough's conservative New England family, who disliked the fact he'd married a Jew, and from Sills' family, who disliked the fact she'd married a Gentile. Adding to the worry was the tension between Sills and Greenough's three daughters from his first marriage, who suddenly found themselves with a Jewish opera diva from Brooklyn for a stepmother. Both Beverly and her husband were ostracized for years by their friends and families, and it is a testament to the strength of their marriage that it survived.

Fresh from her triumphant debut season with the City Opera in New York, Sills saw her status among her peers rise again with her stunning performance in Montemezzi's notoriously difficult The Love of Three Kings, in which she sang the role of Fiora. Her old friend from the Philadelphia Civic Opera, Bamboscheck, had frantically called her on January 1, 1956, little more than a week before the opera's opening on the 9th, to say that his Fiora had fallen ill. "I didn't know anyone stupid enough to try it," he later said, "or smart enough to learn it." Although Montemezzi's work is essentially a long tone poem, with none of the characteristic arias and duets of standard opera, Sills learned the part by listening to recordings nearly constantly over a four-day period, then embarking on four days of hurried rehearsals before the production opened to critical acclaim. But it was the 1958 New York City Opera season that finally put Beverly Sills at the pinnacle of American opera.

Julius Rudel had assumed the directorship of the NYCO after Joseph Rosenstock's retirement in 1956, although the company's board of directors nearly closed the company down that year for lack of money before Sills prevailed on them to try one more year with reduced salaries and production staff. Rudel gave Sills the title role in Douglas Moore's modern opera, The Ballad Of Baby Doe, which would anchor the company's "All American Opera" season of 1958. The role was her biggest challenge, both musically and dramatically. "Baby's got a lot to sing," Sills has noted, "and her hardest aria comes at the very end. To sing the part, you need to sustain a high energy level all the way through." Then, too, the character of Baby Doe is hardly a sympathetic one. She is the "other woman" of Moore's opera, for whom a wealthy silver miner in 19th-century America abandons his wife and children. Sills knew that it would take all the dramatic technique she had learned from "Teacher" to keep the audience on her side. Keep them she did, all the way to the opera's tragic conclusion and Baby Doe's dying aria before the mouth of the silver mine in which her lover has just perished. New York's Herald Tribune was so enthralled with her performance that it placed a review on its front page, an unusual step for a mass-readership daily journal and the rest of the opera press was equally rapturous. Baby Doe convinced Beverly, who had been thinking of retiring to a quiet life as Mrs. Peter Greenough, that her 25 years of work had finally paid off.

But events, as it happened, nearly proved otherwise. Sills became pregnant shortly after Baby Doe's premiere, and was forced into temporary retirement in mid-1959 to give birth to a daughter, Meredith, in August and to a son—Peter, nicknamed Bucky—born in June 1961. Within a six-week period, Sills and her husband were told that Meredith suffered from total deafness, while Peter was severely autistic and would need to spend the rest of his life in an institution. "I was overwhelmed by the children's handicaps," Sills has said. "My behavior changed. I would not leave the house. I stayed home and got terribly domestic." Months of depression passed before she agreed to Peter's suggestion that she resume studying with Estelle Liebling. It was not until 1962 that she felt able to face the public and resume performing for the City Opera in New York, and it was opera that would complete her recovery.

In 1966, the City Opera moved into its new home at Lincoln Center and marked the occasion by opening the season that year with a production of Handel's Guilio Cesare. Although Rudel had gone outside the company to find his Cleopatra, Sills insisted that the role should be given to her—even threatening to quit the company if Rudel wouldn't agree. After much maneuvering and negotiating, Sills sang the role she had instinctively felt would re-launch her career, and brought the entire house to its feet with the aria which closes the work's second act, "Se pieta." "It was a joyous, healing experience for me," she remembers. "All those hours and years … of rehearsing and performing were my escape from being Beverly Sills." As if in confirmation, she was invited for the first time to sing at the world's greatest opera houses—La Scala in 1969, where her performance as Pamira in Rossini's Le Siège de Corinthe led Italian critics to call her "the new Callas" at Covent Garden and Berlin's Deutsche Opera in 1970 and, finally, in 1975, a triumphant debut at the Metropolitan in a reprise of her Pamira. (She had already sung at a Met-sponsored outdoor concert production of Don Giovanni in 1966.) The nearly unanimous praise for her cited her "full-toned, perfectly poised, firmly centered" technique, even when she took on the more difficult bel canto roles, including all three of "Donizetti's queens"—Elizabeth in Roberto Devereaux, Anne in Anna Bolena, and Mary in Maria Stuarta. At her formal retirement in 1980, she was among the world's best-known, most accessible opera singers whose reputation reached throughout the entertainment industry and the nation's cultural life. Among those in attendance at her final appearance for the New York City Opera on the night of October 27, 1980, were Dinah Shore, Mary Martin, Carol Burnett , Burt Reynolds, Walter Cronkite, and a host of opera luminaries such as Renata Scotto , Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, and Leontyne Price . Even more satisfying for Sills, the gala event raised more than $1 million for the opera company she now headed.

Appointed the general director of the New York City Opera in 1979, Sills assumed the position fulltime the morning after her farewell, descending from a flower-strewn stage to the subterranean administrative offices below the plaza of Lincoln Center. Her transition from diva to director was not without its skeptics, but Sills felt well prepared for her new role. "I had been in the theater for fifty years," she says, "and at this theater from the very opening night. What I didn't know, I learned." But even Beverly admitted that she probably wouldn't have taken the job if she had known the extent of the NYCO's debt in 1980—a monumental $5 million. "I was not prepared for the complexities of the financial state," she now admits. "And I could not reveal the true financial picture because no one puts money into a bankrupt organization. I had to keep the giggly, bubbly look that everyone expected from me." Sills knew better than anyone that it cost well over $100,000 to mount just one production at Lincoln Center in 1980, to say nothing of the competition from the better-known and better-endowed Metropolitan with which her company shared Lincoln Center. But she tackled the job with all the concentration and discipline with which she had prepared for her most difficult roles, deciding to set her sights on popularizing opera by going for a mass audience and a bigger box office instead of the more traditional, but smaller, audience of devotées who favored the Met for "serious" opera. With no money to hire an advertising agency, she designed the company's ads herself (one of them, for Faust, bearing the line, "Feel like hell? Come see Faust!"). She personally devised cost breakdowns for all the company's productions and saw to it that they were strictly followed introduced new works by composers known more for their Broadway appeal, like Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd and, to the horror of opera lovers everywhere, installed "supertitles," allowing audiences to read line-by-line English translations of a work's lyrics projected over the proscenium. She traveled tirelessly across the country on fund-raising expeditions, calling on some of her husband's wealthy business friends for help. In 1983 alone, Sills raised more than $9 million. When the warehouse in which the company's sets and costumes were stored burned to the ground in 1985, she managed to raise $5 million in four months to rebuild the company, which opened its 1986 season on schedule. In 1988, when she decided to step down, the New York City Opera was financially healthy and rated as one of the country's best repertory companies.

There were other honors along the way—honorary doctorates from Harvard and from New York University the President's Medal of Freedom, awarded by Jimmy Carter in 1980 and her chair of the March of Dimes' Mother's March on Birth Defects, for which she has raised millions of dollars. In 1994, Sills was named chair of Lincoln Center, responsible for fundraising and policy-making, bringing new challenges which she accepted, at age 66, without hesitation. "I only know that I've always tried to go a step past wherever people expected me to end up," Beverly Sills said at the time. "I'm not about to change now."

This Day in UMS History: Beverly Sills (September 23, 1977)

Many artists presented by UMS over its 132-year history have a long and rich history of performances with the organization. Soprano Beverly Sills was certainly no exception. Throughout the 1970s, Beverly Sills made numerous appearances under UMS auspices, culminating with this, her final appearance in 1977, just a few short years before announcing her retirement in 1980.

The late 60s and early to mid 70s were considered the high points of Beverly Sills’ career, as evidenced by her appearance on the cover of Time magazine in 1971, where she was described as “America’s Queen of Opera.” Beverly Sills’ first UMS appearance on January 30, 1971 was also a solo recital with Charles Wadsworth accompanying her on piano. On that particular program, Sills sang three arias from Handel’s opera seria Giulio Cesare. It is interesting to note that in 1966, Sills’ performance as Cleopatra in the New York City Opera’s revival of Handel’s then virtually unknown Giulio Cesare, is what many argue made her an international opera star.

Her final UMS program featured an aria from Handel’s oratorio Samson, considered by many to be one of Handel’s finest dramatic works, as well as three pieces by Mozart: concert aria “Un moto di gioia”, “Bester Jüngling” from the comic singspiel Der Schauspieldirektor (one of the only four vocal numbers in that piece), and “Alleluia” from the final allegro section of Mozart’s religious solo motet Exsultate Jubilate.

Following her retirement from performing, Beverly Sills remained quite active with the New York City Opera, serving on their board until 1991. Following that, she also served as chairman of Lincoln Center until 2002, and then as chairman of the Metropolitan Opera. Beverly Sills lost her battle with lung cancer on July 2, 2007 at the age of 78.

I hope you will take a moment to enjoy the video below and hear for yourself (if you weren’t able to attend any of her UMS performances!) the beauty and purity of tone of Beverly Sills’ voice as she sings one of my all-time favorite Mozart arias “Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben” from Zaide.

Beverly Sills

Beverly Sills was a groundbreaking force as both a singer and as the first female director of the New York City Opera Company (NYCO). Singing on children’s radio shows as early as age four, Sills had memorized Italian arias by seven and entertained audiences in the Catskills at sixteen. In 1955, she joined the NYCO, and in 1975 she made her Metropolitan Opera debut. Following her retirement from singing, she became the director of the NYCO, eliminating the company’s massive deficit and making opera more accessible through various initiatives. In 1994, she became chair of the Lincoln Center board. The mother of two children with disabilities, Sills served as national chair of the March of Dimes and the Multiple Sclerosis Society, among other organizations.

A hero who succeeds against all odds is a perennial favorite of Americans. Opera singer and manager Beverly Sills fits this description. A precocious singer since the age of three, she did not debut at the Metropolitan Opera House until she was almost forty-six years old, way beyond her prime as an opera singer. Yet her career exemplifies a fighter who carved out her own niche in the opera world singing unusual repertory in less well known and less well-regarded houses before the official Metropolitan Opera world acknowledged her. Sills defied the odds and, as in the best of American traditions, she succeeded. Furthermore, she was a groundbreaker in her role as director of the New York City Opera Company (NYCO), a position neither a woman nor a singer had ever held before.

Sills’s great ability and charming personality showed itself early in her life. Born Belle Miriam Silverman on May 25, 1929, in Brooklyn to Shirley (Bahn) and Morris Silverman, she displayed an interest in music as a baby. She listened to her mother’s old recordings of Amelita Galli-Curci, the legendary soprano, and by age seven had memorized twenty-two arias. Her Italian was mechanically produced, but her stage presence and bubbly demeanor won over her early audiences. A family friend named her Beverly Sills because she thought that it had better marquee value than Belle Silverman. Sills performed for family, friends, and whoever would listen. The actor and performer were already in evidence.

As a four- and five-year-old, she sang on the Uncle Bob’s Rainbow Hour radio show. The self-confident and articulate manner that would be so evident in the adult Beverly Sills was already manifesting itself in the child performer. At age seven, she became the student of Estelle Liebling, a noted and experienced singing teacher. Liebling remained Sills’s only teacher until Liebling’s death in 1970. From ages nine until twelve, under Liebling’s guidance, Sills was a regular performer on Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour. Every Sunday, she and her mother traveled from Brooklyn to Manhattan and the Capitol Theater Building to appear with Major Bowes. After three years, she retired to lead a more normal life in Brooklyn. However, the desire to perform remained an active ambition, though it was temporarily suppressed.

In Sills’s second autobiography, Beverly, she described her large, extended Jewish family, particularly her father’s side of the family. Morris Silverman had eight brothers and three sisters, while Shirley Silverman had one brother and four sisters. Sundays were often visiting days when the Silverman clan would gather. Beverly and her two older brothers, Stanley and Sydney, visited with their cousins, aunts, and uncles. In her neighborhood, called Sea Gate, Jewish families were in the majority and frequent socialization with family and neighbors was common. Sills easily acknowledges her Jewish heritage, though she had little formal Jewish education. When Sills’s father died in 1949 at the age of fifty-three, the connection with his side of the family weakened. By her account, neither the Silverman family nor the rabbi behaved in a comforting or supportive manner. Her mother turned to Christian Science for solace and saw no conflict between her Jewish heritage and her newfound philosophy.

Sills’s father played a dominant role in shaping her behavior. He wanted her to complete her education, including college, before she returned to a singing career. Sills was a very good student whose IQ was 155, and she displayed talent for mathematics as well as music, a not uncommon combination of skills. In 1942 she graduated from P.S. 91 in Brooklyn then, while she continued her singing lessons in French and Italian, she attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn and the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan. By the time she was fifteen years old, she had mastered twenty operatic roles and, in her mind, had set her future course.

While her father wanted her to have a college education, Sills was determined to begin her professional singing career. She convinced her father to let her sing, and in the fall of 1945, at age sixteen, she went to work for the producer J. J. Shubert, touring with his Gilbert and Sullivan repertory company. In February 1947 she debuted in grand opera with the Philadelphia Civic Opera in the role of the Spanish gypsy Frasquita in Bizet’s Carmen. Although Sills had begun her singing career earlier than many other sopranos, she had little success breaking into a major company’s roster. By this time, she had more than fifty roles in her repertoire, but few opportunities to demonstrate her talent.

When her father died of lung cancer in 1949, she was both personally devastated by the loss and professionally frustrated at the lack of progress in her career. She continued searching for parts and often found herself touring in second-rate companies. In 1952, she spent the summer at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills, singing for an audience she called “appreciative Jews.” From 1952 to 1955, she auditioned for Joseph Rosenstock, the director of the NYCO, and finally, in 1955, he agreed to let her join the company. This association became a fortunate union for both Sills’s career and the company. The NYCO was considered to be the “second” opera house in the city and had neither the budget nor the prestige of the Metropolitan. However, Sills’s presence would change that situation. In October 1955, she debuted in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, a role that displayed her charm, acting ability and virtuoso singing. Her skillful coloratura voice, which had been in training for so many years, was now public knowledge.

While touring in Cleveland in 1956, she met the associate editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Peter Greenough, and fell in love with him. The romance, courtship, and marriage, however, had many obstacles to overcome. Greenough was married at the time, a father of three daughters, Episcopalian, and thirteen years older than the twenty-six-year-old Sills. When Sills told her mother about Peter, Mrs. Silverman cried and wondered why her baby could not enjoy total happiness and success. Greenough courted Mrs. Silverman while wooing Beverly, and the couple was married on November 17, 1956. They established residence in Cleveland, and Sills commuted to New York to perform. The upper-class WASP society of Cleveland did not open its arms to Sills, a fact that astonished her. Her comfortable New York Jewish world had not prepared her for the sometimes overtly antisemitic world of Cleveland’s upper crust. Her father-in-law’s second wife was openly hostile to her, and Sills noted in her autobiography that she simply did not understand antisemitism, which judged people by predetermined labels, not as individuals. In 1959, the couple moved to Boston, where, in 1959, she gave birth to a daughter, Meredith (Muffy) Greenough. Some years later, they moved to New York City.

The Greenough’s learned that Muffy was deaf, a serious blow to an opera singer who had hoped to sing to her daughter. In 1961, Sills gave birth to a son, Peter Jr. (Bucky). Unfortunately, the child was developmentally disabled and required institutionalization. By her own admission, this was a very difficult period for Sills. She stopped singing professionally and concentrated on caring for her daughter. It was through the persistence of conductor Julius Rudel, her good friend, and colleague, that she was persuaded to resume her career in 1962. By 1965, Sills at thirty-six years of age had become the New York City Opera’s prima donna. The following year, when the company moved into its new house at Lincoln Center, Sills performed in what she later considered her finest role: Cleopatra in Handel’s Julius Caesar, with Norman Treigle as her costar.

During the late 1960s, Sills gained fame and prominence in roles that had not been performed in many years. She was Pamira in Rossini’s The Siege of Corinth, Elvira in Bellini’s I Puritani, and the three queens in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, Maria Stuarda, and Anna Bolena. Sills’s superb acting skills and her sparkling personality were well illustrated in these unusual and difficult roles. Critic Winthrop Sargeant called her one of the wonders of New York. Sills later stated that her Queen Elizabeth in Roberto Devereux was her proudest achievement.

On April 8, 1975, at age forty-five, she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera Company as Pamira in The Siege of Corinth. The following year, she sang Lucia at the Met in 1978, Thaïs. But Sills’s singing days were soon to be over. As she neared the age of fifty, she considered other career moves. Her long association with the NYCO remained an interest, and in 1979 she became the first woman and the first singer to manage that opera company. She thus joined a small group of women opera directors: Carol Fox at the Lyric Opera in Chicago and Sarah Caldwell in Boston. Sills announced her retirement from singing in 1979, and her farewell gala, on October 27, 1980, was televised on PBS. It was twenty-five years to the day since she had first sung with the NYCO. Two thousand fans came to Lincoln Center to pay her tribute, and the company raised one million dollars.

During the next ten years, Beverly Sills ran the NYCO. When she began, the company had a five million dollar deficit. By 1987, she had eliminated the debt, demonstrating her awesome ability as a fund-raiser and public relations spokesperson for opera. Indeed, during the 1980s, thanks to her television appearances, Beverly Sills became a national spokesperson for the arts. She also displayed her easy laughter and charming nature on a special with Carol Burnett and in frequent appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Sills sang for President Ronald Reagan and became a frequently quoted celebrity on matters related to the arts.

Though she acquired critics as well as fans in her new role as manager, Sills was innovative in many areas. In 1983, she introduced supertitles in English, making opera more accessible to more people. She also introduced sign language. Part of Sills’s philosophy was to encourage American singers and to provide opportunities for American operas. In the mid-1950s she had sung in Douglas Moore’s The Ballad of Baby Doe, and in her tenure as director of the New York City Opera, she mounted productions of works by Stephen Sondheim, Dominick Argento, and Anthony Davis. Opera audiences saw, for the first time, an opera about Malcolm X (Davis’s X), as well as a modern treatment of Casanova (Argento’s Casanova). They heard new American singers such as Jerry Hadley, Samuel Ramey, and Carol Van Ness, all of whom went on to have major international careers. Sills’s leadership demonstrated to the opera world that American singers, trained in the United States, could make significant careers for themselves there without apprenticing in Europe, a new phenomenon.

In 1984, when Christopher Keene became the music director of the company, Sills concentrated on recruiting new singers and fund-raising. In 1989, she retired from her post but continued speaking and writing about the arts in America. In 1994, she became the chair of the Lincoln Center board, another first, since no woman or performer had ever before held this position. Sills said that she planned to develop more programs for teenagers so that the young could be introduced to opera, classical music, and theater. She held that post until 2002 when she became the volunteer chairwoman of the Metropolitan Opera. In January 2005 she resigned from this position, which she referred to as “the last act of a sixty-year career in the arts world.” She explained the move by citing both her own frailty (she had experienced three fractures in the course of a year) and the ill health of her husband, for whom she had been caring for eight years.

Sills received many honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1980), the nation’s highest civilian honor, and the New York City Handel Medallion, for contributions to the city’s cultural life. She won a Grammy Award in 1976 and has won four Emmy awards (1975, 1977, 1980, 1981).

In 1987 Sills was one of four inductees into the Working Woman’s Hall of Fame, and in 1998 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Sills sat on the President’s Task Force on the Arts, was a panelist of the National Endowment for the Arts, and was awarded fourteen honorary degrees.

Sills was involved with several charitable organizations, particularly those that reflected her experience as a mother of two children with disabilities. A former National Chairwoman of the March of Dimes Foundation—for which she helped raised more than eighty million dollars—she also served as chairwoman of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Beverly Sills’s contribution to the world of opera and the fine arts was impressive. Her groundbreaking role as an opera director as well as her career as a singer was notable. Her audio and video recordings, particularly from her 1950s performances in such delicate roles as Lucia, Manon, Thaïs, and the three Queens, will always preserve her legacy. Sills’s singing was known for its delicacy and fine interpretation. Her coloratura voice did not have the range or the endurance of lyric sopranos. It was only the early recordings that captured her voice’s beauty. Her video performances of La Traviata and Manon will ensure future generations the opportunity to see her effective acting technique. Her democratic interest in making opera available to large numbers of people reflected her egalitarian philosophy and her commitment to Americans of all ages, races, and backgrounds.

In her autobiographical discussions of her beliefs, Sills talked about her cultural connection to Judaism and America. While she viewed herself as a religious person, she did not practice any ritual (other than to light a memorial candle on the anniversaries of her parents’ deaths). She did not attend prayer services at a synagogue or temple and stated in her autobiography that her daughter, Muffy, could choose any religion she wished. In 1970 she visited Israel and was enormously impressed. She performed with Julius Rudel and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and found the experience to be exuberant, stimulating, and exciting. But her connection to Israel and Judaism, she wrote, wass historical and temperamental, not philosophical or spiritual. She believed that one can believe in God and be religious without membership in a particular religion.

As a Jewish American, Sills shared the very American commitment to equal opportunity for all and to respect for and tolerance of religious and cultural differences. She enjoyed the diversity of peoples in the United States and considered the artistic freedoms and protections that America offers critical to creative success. As a self-confident woman, educated in both a Jewish and American environment that encouraged and rewarded achievement, Beverly Sills served as a role model for American women. As someone who overcame many obstacles in her career, she exemplified the enduring American image of the underdog succeeding against all odds. As an articulate advocate for the arts, Beverly Sills was among the most widely recognized faces from the world of American opera.

In 2002 Sills received the New York Heroes Award, the highest honor bestowed by the New York Chapter of the Recording Academy, given to individuals whose creative talents and accomplishments cross all musical boundaries. In 2005, The Metropolitan Opera established the $50,000 Beverly Sills Artist Award for aspiring American singers, and in 2006 she received New York University's Lewis Rudin Award for Exemplary Service to New York City. In 2007, she was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.

Sills passed away on July 2, 2007, at the age of 78.

Current Biography. “Beverly Sills.” (1982): 392–396.

Davis, Peter G. “Devil’s Disciple.” New York 21 (October 8, 1988): 64ff..

Heymont, George. “Bravo NYCO!” Horizon 29 (April 1986): 33–34.

McNally, Terence. “Patience Is a Virtue.” Horizon 28 (July/August, 1985): 58.

Rich, Alan. “High Notes at the City Opera.” Newsweek 104 (October 8, 1984): 80ff..

Sills, Beverly. Bubbles: A Self Portrait (1976).

Idem. Beverly: An Autobiography, with Lawrence Linderman (1987).

Idem. “Make Ours a World of Love, Not Hate and War.” McCall’s 118 (May 1991): 68ff.

The Pump Room at Chicago’s former Ambassador East Hotel

When Ernie Byfield opened The Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel on October 1, 1938, he undoubtedly had little idea that he was beginning an enterprise that would still be thriving to this day.

  • Today, The Pump Room remains highly acclaimed restaurant and Chicago landmark.
  • Located in Chicago’s Gold Coast inside the Ambassador East Hotel, the Pump Room’s traditional elegance has made it the place to celebrate special occasions in the city. A gallery of celebrity photographs, many taken at the famous Booth One and others taken at the more intimate Green Booth, line the walls of the stairwell leading to the famed Pump Room Restaurant.

Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Ernie Byfield in famous both number 1 – Pump Room, Ambassador East Hotel.

In 1938, Mr. Byfield was inspired by a place called the Pump Room that dominated the scene in 18th century England.

  • Located in the resort city of Bath, The Pump Room was a place where Queen Anne and other stylish Londoners converged to revel in the social life at night after a long day.
  • The Pump Room was named after the hot water drinks “pumped” into its patrons’ cocktails.

The Pump Room in the 1950s.

Byfield’s Pump Room was a success from the day it opened.

  • Chicago’s socialites perched themselves along the large room’s western wall to observe the celebrities who made their appearances along the East side of the room.
  • Those guests seated in Booth One, perhaps the more renowned table in the country, attracted the most attention.

Carole Lombard and Clark Gable – between trains 1930s – in the Pump Room.

  • The Pump Room was a stopover for lunch between trains – the 20th Century Limited, Broadway Limited and the Super Chief, Chief or City of Los Angeles – from New York to Los Angeles or vice versa. Celebrities would takes rooms at the Ambassador East to enjoy a bath and freshen up.
  • Famed actress Gertrude Lawrence, who was starring in a play in Chicago at the same time as The Pump Room’s debut, established its reputation. Miss Lawrence staged a nightly gathering in Booth One during the play’s entire 90-day run. From that moment on, The Pump Room became the place to see and be seen.

Elizabeth Taylor with Eddie Fisher, Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan in The Pump Room.

John Barrymore roared for champagne Bette Davis could be found curled up on the piano bench Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall celebrated their wedding in Booth One, as did Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood. Liza Minnelli grew up in Booth One and has fond memories of dining there with her mother, Judy Garland. Ms. Garland immortalized the restaurant in the lyrics to “Chicago”, with the words “we’ll eat at The Pump Room/Ambassador East, to say the least”. And of course, Frank Sinatra held court in Booth One countless times.

Judy Garland with her children, Liza, Joey and Lorna, in the Pump Room.

After Byfield’s death in 1950, The Pump Room held on to its allure as a place for stargazing. A new generation of luminaries took up residence in Booth One. Mel Brooks personally greeted each guest Paul Newman and Robert Redford lunched on ham sandwiches and pilsners every day during the shooting of “The Sting”. Michael J. Fox, Eddie Murphy and Jim Belushi have all continued the tables’ famous tradition.

Opera star Beverly Sills has added some high notes to the room, while a few rock and roll legends like David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Olivia Newton-John and Mick Jagger, have added some of their own. A little known drummer was refused entry when he failed to pass the dress code and titled his solo album, “No Jacket Required” after the incident. His name Phil Collins. (He was sent a new jacket by way of apology.)

A 1977 view of the Pump Room at the Ambassador East.

  • One of the few restaurants in the country to be immortalized in a Sinatra song, the Pump Room in Chicago is now a hot spot once again.
  • The Pump Room was one of the first quality restaurants to open in Chicago after the end of Prohibition, and soon became a Windy City icon.

Celebrities and politicians at the Pump Room – from the 1930s until the 1980s.

  • In addition to Sinatra (who sang the praises of the place in the classic song Chicago), the place was a favorite hangout of a lot of famous people including Marilyn Monroe, Sammy Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, Bette Davis and numerous others.

The Pump Room in the 1940s…

The `Pump Room’ where king crab meat is served on flaming swords.

  • The Pump Room, named after a spa in Bath, England, remained open long after the giants that once graced its premises had left.
  • Unfortunately, time took its toll on the legendary establishment, and its culinary fare was soon surpassed by the fine dining scene exploding in Chicago and characterized by uber-chef Charlie Trotter.

The Pump Room – 1940s…

Lucius Beebe (the society columnist who coined “cafe society”) featured The Pump Room in his New York column along with magazine stories. Stars, celebrities, etc. lunched regularly at The Pump Room for the short layover en-route by train between New York and Hollywood or San Francisco. They would overnight on the 20th Century Limited or The Broadway Limited from New York to Chicago – then dine at The Pump Room – and continue West on the Super Chief, The Chief, the Golden State, Cities of Los Angeles or San Francisco and the California Zephyr.

Ed Sullivan in the Pump Room 1950s.

The Pump Room in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Pump Room experienced a revitalization in the late 1990’s when it was purchased by a large restaurant management group. They spent a lot of money to renovate the facility, overhaul the menu and hire a top flight staff. While the Pump Room’s golden era trade mark flaming food served on a sword was a tragedy of city fire codes, the menu is now on par with any in the city serving a sophisticated interpretation of classic American cuisine. In addition to the revamped cuisine, the Pump Room upgraded its wine offering and expanded the bar area.

The Pump Room in 2014. The former Ambassador East is now called the Public Chicago Hotel.

In April 2010, the Ambassador East Hotel was sold to Ian Schrager Co. It closed in 2011 and was completely remodeled as the Public Chicago Hotel. The Pump Room reopened in Fall 2011, with food concepts by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The hotel as well as The Pump Room is located on the Northeast corner of State Parkway and Goethe St in Chicago’s Gold Coast.

For the Record …

Born Belle Miriam Silverman, May 25, 1929, in Brooklyn, N.Y. daughter of Morris (a life insurance broker) and Shirley (Bahn) Silverman married Peter Buckeley Greenough (a newspaper publisher), November 17, 1956 children: Meredith, Peter Jr. Education: Studied voice privately under Estelle Liebling.

Coloratura soprano, 1945-80 director of New York City Opera, 1979-89. Made theatrical debut in autumn of 1945 with a Gilbert and Sullivan national touring company took leads in operettas Rosemarie, Countess Maritza, and The Merry Widow. Made debut in grand opera with Philadelphia Civic Opera, February, 1947, as Frasquita in Carmen. Toured with Charles L. Wagner Opera Company, 1951-52. Joined New York City Opera, 1955, with debut October 29, 1955, as Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus. Made debut with Metropolitan Opera, April 8, 1975, as Pamira in The Siege of Corinth. Has also toured the United States, Europe, and the Far East. Retired from singing in 1980. Has made numerous recordings of full operas and arias for RCA, Deutsche Grammophon, Angel, Columbia, ABC, and other labels.

country again, this time with the Charles L. Wagner Opera Company. The pace was still rigorous — Sills sang Violetta in Giuseppe Verdi ’ s La Traviata some 40 times and Micaela in Carmen more than 60 times in a single year. Her best notices from this period came for her San Francisco Opera performance as Helen of Troy in Arrigo Boito ’ s Mefistofele.

Sills ’ s greatest ambition was to sing with the New York City Opera she auditioned for the company numerous times before finally earning a position in 1955. Her debut there, as Rosalinde in Johann Straus ’ s Die Fledermaus, was an unqualified success critics agreed that she showed great promise. Soon after, Sills married wealthy Cleveland newspaperman Peter Buckeley Greenough. In 1958 she earned the best notices of her career for her performance as Baby in the New York premier of Douglas Moore ’ s The Ballad of Baby Doe.

Between 1958 and 1961 Sills commuted to New York from her homes in Cleveland and Boston in order to appear in a succession of important operas. She was forced to curtail her professional activities, however, when it became clear that her children — born in 1959 and 1961 — had special needs that demanded her constant attention. Sills ’ s daughter Meredith was discovered to have progressive deafness her son Peter Jr. was diagnosed as autistic. Anguished, Sills decided to devote all her time to her children and did not return to the stage until the mid-1960s.

When she did return, in a Boston production of Mozart ’ s The Magic Flute, she discovered that her work helped ease the anxiety about her children. She came back to the New York City Opera in 1966, just in time to open the company ’ s new home in Lincoln Center with a performance as Cleopatra in George Frideric Handel ’ s Julius Caesar. The performance was Sills ’ s first major triumph it assured her prima donna status with the company, but more importantly it endeared her to the demanding New York audiences.

By 1969 Sills had become one of the most important coloratura sopranos in the United States. New Yorker critic Winthrop Sargeant wrote of her: “ If I were recommending the wonders of New York to a tourist, I would place Beverly Sills at the top of the list — way ahead of such things as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. ” Davis commented that Sills ’ s performances in a number of operas in the late 1960s “ are among my most cherished operatic experiences. I imagine they are also fondly remembered by many other New York operagoers who felt that something precious vanished soon after the birth of Supersills. ”

Sills was 40 when she reached opera ’ s pinnacle of success, and she pushed her voice to the limit in order to record and perform as often as her audience demanded. She was still at the top of her powers throughout the 1970s, and her enduring beauty and flair for theater brought throngs of new fans to classical opera. At her long overdue Metropolitan Opera debut in 1975 she was greeted with an eighteen-minute ovation. In Italy she was known as “ La Fenomena ” (the phenomenon) and “ II Mostro ” (the prodigy). Public television brought Sills into homes across America she quickly achieved a height of fame exceedingly rare for stars of the stage — and almost unheard of for divas.

Davis noted, however, that age and a relentless professional pace began to take their toll on Sills ’ s vocal ability. “ Sills ’ s depressing operatic performances during those final years of her career were worse than vocally disappointing, ” the critic wrote. “ They had degenerated into little more than mechanical personal appearances by a self-absorbed media heroine. ” Sills herself was perfectionist enough to know that her work was suffering. In 1980 she retired from performing and accepted the challenge of running the company that had been her base for more than 20 years.

The task of managing the New York City Opera proved every bit as daunting as the most demanding vocal performance. When Sills took over in 1980 the company was five million dollars in debt. To make matters worse, the factory housing the company ’ s costumes burned down and critics panned key productions. Sills was nevertheless able to reverse the fortunes of the Opera, principally by charming funds from corporate donors. Sills also managed to increase attendance at the company ’ s productions by introducing supertitles — a screen with translations suspended over the stage. Today, wrote Kathleen Brady in Working Woman, “ instead of being $5 million in the red, the company operates in the black with a $25 million budget and has eliminated the accumulated deficit. ”

Sills gave up her professional responsibilities in 1989. She is now truly retired, living quietly with her husband of 35 years. She has received a number of prestigious honors, most notably the Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed upon her by Jimmy Carter in 1980. She expresses no regrets about retiring, however. “ I ’ ve done everything I set out to do, ” she once said, “ sung in every opera house I wanted to … . To go on past the point where I should, I think would break my heart. I think my voice has served me very well. I ’ d like to put it to bed so it would go quietly, with pride. ”


Beverly Sills, considered one of the best-known opera singers of the 1960s and 1970s, was called “America’s Queen of Opera” by Time Magazine and known as “Bubbles” to her fans singing career of more than four decades. She was renowned for her roles in operas worldwide and more popular with the American public than any opera singer since Enrico Caruso, even among people who never set foot in an opera house.

Cleveland may have played a small role in Beverly Sill’s life, but it was crucial. The city gave the redheaded soprano from Brooklyn, New York, the chance to try out for the role that would serve as her debut with the New York City Opera in 1955 - Rosalinda in Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus.”

Early in 1955, she auditioned for John Price , founder of Musicarnival, a summer tent theater, singing the Csardas from the Strauss operetta four or five times. Price not only hired Sills but also introduced her to Peter Greenough, then associate editor for The Plain Dealer.

Beverly married Peter Bulkley Greenough , a grandchild of Liberty and Delia Holden, on November 17, 1956. Greenough and Sills had two children: Meredith Holden “Muffy” born on August 4, 1959, virtually deaf, and had multiple sclerosis. A son, Peter, Jr., Bucky, born in 1961, was deaf, autistic, intellectually disabled, and epileptic. Beverly restricted her schedule so she could care for her children.

While living in Bratenahl, Cleveland, audiences had many opportunities to experience the Sills magic. A year after her Rosalinda at Musicarnival, she portrayed Carmen, which she sang nowhere else. She performed Puccini’s Tosca in 1957 and one of her signature parts, the title role in Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe,” in 1958.

In 1960, Greenough and Sills moved to Milton, Massachusetts, where he worked for the Boston Herald and later the Boston Globe. Beverly sang for the Opera Company of Boston, the first of many roles.

Sills association with the Cleveland Orchestra began in 1962 with a pop concert led by Louis Lane. David Bamberger, founding director of Cleveland Opera, began working with Sills at New York City Opera in 1966 when she triumphed as Cleopatra in Handel’s “Julius Caesar.”

Ironically, the Metropolitan Opera did not hire Sills until 1975, past her vocal prime, to sing Palmira in Rossini’s “The Siege of Corinth.” She won new fans and performed with the Met until her retirement.

Sills made her last appearance with the Cleveland Orchestra in December 1978, when she took part in the ensemble’s 60th-anniversary concert with music director Lorin Maazel and violinist Issac Stern. Her final performance with the Met in Cleveland were Massenet’ “Thais” in 1978 and Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” in 1979.

With an effervescent personality, a bold stage presence, and a voice that could scale the most challenging music, Beverly Sills became America’s beloved soprano. Her ability to schmooze made her the ideal guest, and often host, on late-night talk shows. Her self-deprecating humor led her to team with her friend, Carol Burnett, to perform “Pigoletto” on “The Muppet Show” and demystify the seemingly highfalutin world of opera.

After retiring from the stage in 1980 at age 51, Beverly became one of the best arts advocate and fund-raiser. She began a new life as an executive and leader of New York’s performing arts community. First, she became the New York City opera’s general director during one of its most troubled eras, taking it out of debt and into an adventurous repertoire.

In 1994, Sills became chairwoman of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. She was the first woman and first former artist in that position. In 2002, she became chairwoman of the Metropolitan Opera.

She used her celebrity status to further charity work for the prevention and treatment of congenital disabilities. In 1981, Barnard College awarded her its highest honor, the Barnard Medal of Distinction. The Long Island Music Hall of Fame inducted her in 2007.

Opera lovers everywhere maintained a love affair with Beverly Sills to the end. Although Beverly overcame cancer in 1974, she died of lung cancer in New York City on July 2, 2007. She left the bulk of her estate for the care of her disabled adult children. Beverly was buried alongside Peter at Sharon Gardens Cemetery, in Westchester County, New York.

Watch the video: BEVERLY 300 2021


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